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Gladiator Mark II. Ridley Scott on autopilot. Orlando Bloom commercial. Can you tell I was disappointed with Kingdom of Heaven? After a spectacular trailor I held high hopes for this film, but with the possible exception of some impressive battle scenes, Scott’s new by-the-numbers historical Mills & Boon is a disappointing cinema experience. Sure, as we’ve come to expect from Scott, it looks great. But the casting of wooden Bloom as front-and-centre hero is only one of many flaws.
Orlando Bloom (Balian of Ibelin), whom Peter Jackson had the sense to give very little screentime to in Lord of the Rings, seems to sleepwalk almost every scene in Kingdom of Heaven, like a good-looking extra accidently finding himself promoted to leading actor. Around him old hands like Jeremy Irons (Tiberias) and Liam Neeson (Godfrey of Ibelin) casually chew the scenery, but baby-faced Bloom stares impassively at everyone and everything. No doubt there’s a lot of drama playing out behind those big eyes, but virtually none of it is finding its way to his face. Watching him stirring the defenders of Jerusalem with a rousing speech is nothing short of cringeworthy—not that he is helped by such Shakespearian script nuggets as “Come on! Come on!” “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!” this ain’t.
From scene to scene we follow Bloom through virtually the same plotline as Gladiator, tossing aside historical accuracy left and right as he does so, miraculously transforming himself from village blacksmith to engineer, scholar and leader of men in a few months. Of course this isn’t meant to be a documentary, but the history of the Crusades is so full of drama on a personal and epic scale, why did this story have to be dumbed down to such an extent? I suppose we can only be thankful that Scott gives a reasonably accurate depiction of the largely thuggish behaviour of the Christian invaders, and the honourable Saracen leader Saladin (well, at least until he finally got so sick of the Christians continually invading that he was eventually forced to be as brutal as they were).
Kingdom of Heaven is far less than we should expect from a film-maker of Scott’s calibre. Let’s hope he turns off the autopilot next time around and doesn’t churn out Gladiator Mark III.
Two and a half seige towers out of five.